Sivut kuvina

Where a congregation is collected, it is necessary, or at least it is thought necessary, to build a church, for none, like the primitive Christians, will be contented with an upper room. For the building of a church, funds must be raised; and then the fundholders become the patrons of the church, although the power may remain nominally in the whole of the congregation.

• Though Establishments and Dissenters are apparently opposed to each other, they have very much in common, and are deeply in each other's debt. An establishment always produces dissenters, where there is freedom of opinion; and dissenters, when they become rich and moderate in their views, return to the dignity and the repose of the establishment. Both have the same enemy, indifference to all religious opinions; and they profit alike when there is any great awakening and renewed concern about the truths of religion. We are indebted to the Church of England for the larger portion of works upon Christianity that deserve reading; and the Church of Scotland at one time was a model of the diligent instruction and remarkable success which every true minister of the gospel would strive to imitate, and desire to obtain.

*Far from either being superfluous, both the Establishment and the Dissenters, were they cordially to unite their efforts for the good of the country, would come short of their aim, unless supported by the united prayers of every private Christian; and any religious institution whatsoever, whether connected with Government or not, would be productive of more evil than good, if it discouraged, or in any way seemed to supersede, the efforts of individuals.

Primitive Christianity owed its success, under God, to the prayers, the activity, and zeal of all its members. It could only be established by the efforts of three centuries of its suffering followers; and it was not till it triumphed over all obstacles, that the State took it by the hand, and encumbered it with help, though it might seem to promise it repose. The success of Christianity was insured by individual efforts, and by individual efforts it must still be sustained. Come what will of the favour of the State, it is fervent prayer and faithful preaching that must evangelize both our country and the world.

. But whether the Establishment is retained or rejected, a prospect of good is opening out upon us, if the nation, by the Divine Mercy, be still spared. If the Establishment stand, it must become more popular. The primitive Christians had the choice of their pastors; and, though the endowment of churches might seem to entitle the patron to greater privileges and peculiar weight in the appointment of a minister, still, he would injure his own interests, as well as the souls of others, if he imposed upon a congregation a teacher who was distasteful to them, though in other respects unobjectionable.

There can be no cheaper or more meritorious popularity than that which arises from consulting the people as to the choice of their ministers. If this compliance was at all times desirable, it has now become necessary. In the convulsions of society which are about to take place, whatever has no foundation in public opinion will be swept away. The wealth of the Church of England, especially, will require many friends to defend it from the spoilers which its riches will ex

cite, and who will not be easily scared from their prey; but, if it become more popular in its constitution, and if it unitë the learning which long distinguished it, to the everyday usefulness which the Scotch Church once possessed, it may bid defiance to all the arguments against it, and, what is to be dreaded more than arguments, it may escape from the rapacity of an undistinguishing reform. If, however, deaf to the warnings which the times are holding out to it, it make no preparation for the coming storm, and trust to that wealth for its sole protection, which will then be its ruin; still, the interests of religion will survive its fall. Its ministers for a time will not possess less learning or ability, and, freed from every obstacle to their exertions, they will possess the strength and the fire of a new sect, with the acquirements of a richly endowed hierarchy; and their influence would probably never be greater over the public mind, than at the moment when their enemies imagined that their power was broken for ever.'

pp. 49–53. But alas! the strength and the fire of a new sect' soon attain their zenith, and the acquirements of a richly endowed hierarchy perish with the second generation of those who are excluded from its advantages. Thus was it with the Nonconformists of other days. The voluntary principle, so strong under persecution, became enfeebled and powerless, in proportion as the counteractive force of oppression and intolerance was lessened, and a freer scope was afforded for its vigorous development. A new sect became necessary to wake the dormant energies of the Church. As if the sun of the moral world required to be fed by erratic bodies of this description, at different periods, new religious sects, the comets of the ecclesiastical system, perplexing monarchs' and their prelates, have suddenly appeared, and either by the light or warmth they imparted, or by the effects of their attraction upon the bodies whose orbits they intersected, have exerted for a while the most beneficial influence, and then have passed away. All sects, whatever have been their errors, have recommended themselves by seizing upon some neglected truth; and the strength of a sect has generally been proportioned to the previous ignorance and formalism. When religious truth shall be more generally diffused, and more ingenuously embraced in all its fullness and simplicity, then, the occasion for sects will cease with the causes which originate divisions, and the Church shall be one; and being apparently so, the world will believe her testimony concerning Him whom the Father hath sent.

In the mean time, although there must needs be sects and heresies, and these are to be viewed as the remedies, rather than the disease of the Church,—the healing virtues of the well-spring of religion seeming to depend upon the periodical troubling of the waters,-let us not forget, that even remedies partake of the character of evils, and are but temporary expedients. Schism is an evil, and sectarianism a vice, although the scctary may not in all

cases be the real schismatic. Much more manly would it be in Dissenters to acknowledge this, and to set themselves zealously to counteract the spirit of division, than to wince at the word sectarism, and turn with rabid fury upon their best friends for telling them the truth. On this point, Mr. Ballantyne may possibly stand a better chance than ourselves of being respectfully listened to.

Another obstacle in the way of Free Churches is their tendency to division. ... Though the whole of them are merely voluntary associations, and are held together by nothing but an intellectual and moral force, yet they have frequently conducted themselves as those who are united by the spirit of the world, and have divided and subdivided into parties innumerable. The spirit of division among the Dissenters, has most essentially impaired their efficiency. Besides producing an impression on the public mind, that they are incapable of agreement, it has utterly disabled them from acting in concert against the common foe *, and made them again and again do their utmost to injure one another. If, instead of an indefinite number of Sectarian Churches, the Dissenters, at their outset, had formed only one Christian Church, the Establishments in Britain, in all probability, had ere now existed only as matters of history: Ballantyne, pp. 282–4.

If so, even the Episcopalian will be fain to admit, that their divisions, by saving the Establishment, have done some good. They have also been beneficial, by operating like competition in • ordinary life, and counteracting that spirit of monopoly in which • human beings, in all kinds of professions, are so apt to indulge.' But if the efficiency of the voluntary principle in any way depends upon such competition, then it is a contradiction in terms, to represent those divisions which originate it, as lessening the efficiency of the voluntary system. These divisions may be beneficial in one respect, and injurious in another; but they cannot be both in the same respect. Those who have contracted a habit of regarding with complacency the divisions and diversities in the Christian world, as giving the variety of a picture to the map of society, are apt to defend by the maxims of political economy the disorders of the Church, calling the bitter sweet, and the discord harmony. But, if it could be shewn, that the voluntary principle' inevitably tends to this spirit of division, and that its vital efficiency depends upon the competition thus originated, the conclusion would, in our judgement, involve an objection to the system, not merely formidable, but fatal. We would much rather adopt Mr. Ballantyne's view of the matter, and believe, that the spirit of division has most essentially impaired the efficiency of

* We are willing to hope that, by the common foe', Infidelity or Irreligion is intended, and not either the Church or the State.

Dissenting institutions *; an effect which it will continue to have, till division comes to be regarded as an evil, and till the false principles that have infected modern 'Independency', converting the congregational polity of Owen and his colleagues into a sort of ecclesiastical radicalism, be detected and discarded.

Sectarian divisions, whatever greater evils they may preclude or mitigate, (whether the evils resulting from an Establishment, or evils attributable to Dissent,) present a stumbling-block to the unbeliever, and a source of perplexity to the honest inquirer, which it must be the wish of every intelligent and right-minded Christian to see removed. They obscure the evidence of Christianity itself, give to Protestantism a character not its own, and impart to the doctrines of religion the appearance of a most unsatisfactory uncertainty. All the causes to which they can be traced, -the impositions of human authority, the corruptions of the Church, the imperfection of religious knowledge, erroneous maxims of policy, epidemic fanaticism, or the ambition of individual heresiarchs, are in themselves evil; and these are evils which must diminish or disappear before the regenerating force of Scriptural principles. The energy of sectarianism is the strength of excitement, of disease ; not the vital energy which has its source in Divine Influence alone, and which no systems can either secure or supersede. Till a richer measure of this influence be poured out upon the Churches of Christ, than they are yet prepared to receive, the interests and exigencies of society require that the work of instruction and evangelization should be carried on as it may, by the operation of mixed motives, doubtful schemes and opposing forces of human policy, competition, and contention. But, since the unity of the Church must be in proportion to its purity, and its purity constitutes its strength, those sectarian divisions among Christians which are the symptoms of degeneracy, cannot but be a source of weakness, and must retard the ultimate triumphs of that faith which is destined to be the religion of the world.

To an impartial observer who can sufficiently abstract himself from the bustle that surrounds him, to take a calin, dispassionate survey of the movements of the social machinery, the aspect

* Had it not been for division', remarks Mr. Ballantyne, 'is there any one so simple as to believe that the country had had 'the one half of the Dissenters it has at present? Whatever evils this spirit may occasion,-and we are far from meaning to extenuate either their number or their magnitude,—it is productive of at least one advantage. By bringing into existence a number of new congregations, it uniformly increases the means of public instruction, and frequently in places where it is much wanted. . A spirit of harmony, however, if not paralysed by improper regulations, would do incomparably more.'

Ballantyne, p. 298. which the religious world presents at this moment, must be that of an edifice partly in ruin, partly under repair; here propped up by buttresses and girders, there deformed and hidden by intricate scaffolding. The Established Episcopacy with all its cumbrous Gothic hierarchy,—the Scotch Establishment,-the Three Denominations,—Methodism,-Quakerism,- and the new extra-ecclesiastical institutions which demonstrate to the world, that neither Episcopacy, nor Presbyterianism, nor Congregationalism, nor all together, had made provision either for the growing wants of the home population, or for the highest of all duties, the evangelization of the heathen world, or had been primarily constructed with any proper reference to those objects ;-all these systems, endowed and free, with all their sub-systems worked by committees and secretaries,-self-acting machinery wound up once a year,--so regular in their most irregular movements, so efficient in spite of every flaw or ground of exception, so harmonious amid confusion ;-what is the character of the whole, but that of an accumulated apparatus of temporary expedients-indispensable at present—well adapted to the circumstances of the times, but which it is impossible to think of as the permanent instrumentality by which God will consummate His work?

The success of all this confused, yet accordant combination of desultory and systematic effort, has been great ;-all circumstances considered, miraculously great. Still, how much has been left undone! Not merely is the supply of religious instruction insufficient, as measured by the numbers of the population, but no adequate effort has been made to meet the advanced position of society. We have set about educating the poor in self-defence against the consequences of their ignorance; but the educated youth of England are growing up in irreligion. What good will it do, all the wrangling for our Apostolic Church and boasting of our all-perfect congregational system, while the larger portion of our countrymen care not a straw about either ? The congregational system is, we are fully persuaded, the best scheme in the world for preserving the purity of the Christian profession; and to a certain extent, it has worked well. It has kept alive the flame of piety through a period in which it had apparently gone out on the national altar. But it does not even affect to embrace the wants of the whole community; and what is especially deserving of remark, it abandons those very duties to the Establishment, which are the most intimately connected with the best interests of the general mass of society. It repels the worldly, the undecided, the frivolous from its communion; and it does well ; but is every duty fulfilled, when it has secured its own purity of discipline?

• The voluntary secession from the free Churches, of such persons, is', says Mr. Ballantyne, one of the greatest blessings the Dissenters can obtain. Were they remaining until they were expelled, they

« EdellinenJatka »